Good Tuesday morning and happy second day of Hanukkah!
Ed note:This will be the final Daily Kickoff briefing of 2019. Thank you for being loyal and engaged subscribers. We look forward to bringing you even more original content in 2020. Happy New Year from the team at JI!
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PROFILE — The woman behind the Jewish gender-equity revolution
Rachel Gildiner, the first executive director of Gather D.C., is hoping to lead a gender-equity revolution in the Jewish communal world. The mom of three sat down with Gabby Deutsch for Jewish Insider to discuss her efforts to build a vibrant community of female Jewish professionals.
Call to action: At a professional development conference in 2018, Gildiner noticed that nearly all of the sessions were led by men. “It felt really bad and weird,” she said. “And all the texts we looked at only had male pronouns, and only women volunteered to take the notes.” At that conference, she resolved to do something about it, and in September 2018, she published an article titled “Let’s Make 5779 The Year of the Jewish Woman.”
Online community: With the article, she created a Facebook group called “Year of the Jewish Woman,” invited a couple dozen personal and professional friends to join, and waited to see what would happen next. On that first day, 500 people joined the Facebook group. Today it has more than 2,800 members.
Empowering colleagues: “We’re trying to connect more [Jews in their] 20s and 30s to each other, and we do that really intentionally,” she explains. “To just create a vessel for Jewish women professionals to be able to find one another and connect about really important topics…feels very aligned.”
Read the full profile here.
MEET THE CANDIDATE — Rep. Ilhan Omar’s challenger says she and Trump are ‘two peas in a pod’
John Mason, one of three Democratic primary challengers to Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), discussed his candidacy in an interview with JI’s Jacob Kornbluh.
Bio: Mason describes himself as a community organizer and an entrepreneur, noting that he worked on voter registration for former President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. His husband, Nick Leonard, ran unsuccessfully for the Minnesota Senate seat vacated by Al Franken in 2018.
Longshot bid: In the 2018 primary, Omar garnered 48% of the vote in a six-person race. The congresswoman has already raised more than $1 million for her re-election bid. She serves as a surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) presidential campaign and is a darling of the progressive movement. In a phone interview with Jewish Insider, Mason acknowledged his longshot odds, noting the national support that Omar has attracted. The flip side, he said, is that “a lot of individuals are going to be watching the primary and supporting us because the implications are immense nationally.”
Why now? Mason says he started thinking about running for office after President Donald Trump was elected, but felt he didn’t have enough time to mount a campaign last cycle. Prior to 2018, the district had been represented by Keith Ellison who decided not to seek re-election and the primary to fill his seat was held a mere two months later.
According to Mason, voters in the Democratic primary “did not have a lot of time to vet the candidates” before they selected Omar to represent them in Congress. Since then, Omar “has done an excellent job in saying who she is, what she’s about and what she’s advocating for.” And as a result, Mason said, he sensed an opportunity to challenge the incumbent.
For comparison purposes: Mason pointed to “discomfort” among some of Omar’s constituents and House colleagues, which he said was due to her rhetoric and policy stances. “Omar and Trump are two peas in a pod,” Mason emphasized. “Their style is inciteful. There’s a lot of anger there. There’s a very divisive approach to their way of politics.”
Outlier soldier: Mason noted that Omar was rebuked by her own colleagues for employing antisemitic tropes, and argued that it’s wrong for Republicans to describe her as the face of the Democratic party. “I believe that the face and the leader of the Democratic Party is still Barack Obama at this time,” he insisted.
Mason on the U.S.-Israel alliance: “The United States and Israel are very close allies. I do not see any separation or any light in between that excellent relationship,” Mason said. “That being said, we are democracies and we can absolutely have those conversations on how best to move forward on different policies. I do not believe in boycotting or doing anything that would harm, retract or cause fractions within that relationship.” Mason told JI that he’s a supporter of a two-state solution and a strong opponent of both the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel and of conditioning military assistance to Israel.
Open doors: Mason has yet to visit Israel but stated that “one of the things on my list of things to do if and when I’m elected is to visit Israel and help repair that reputation and confusion” surrounding the relationship between Minnesota 5th and Israel. Mason added that he disagreed with Israel’s decision to bar Omar from entering the country last August. “I think that she should have been able to visit as a member of the House of Representatives.”
TOP TALKER — Giuliani says he’s ‘more of a Jew’ than Soros
Former New York City Mayor and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani set off a firestorm of controversy on Monday, drawing criticism for comments he made about George Soros. In a wide-ranging interview with New York Magazine reporter Olivia Nuzzi, Giuliani suggested that his ongoing personal attacks against Soros should not be considered antisemitic because the billionaire is not religious:
“Don’t tell me I’m antisemitic if I oppose him. Soros is hardly a Jew. I’m more of a Jew than Soros is. I probably know more about — he doesn’t go to church, he doesn’t go to religion — synagogue. He doesn’t belong to a synagogue, he doesn’t support Israel, he’s an enemy of Israel. He’s elected eight anarchist DAs in the United States. He’s a horrible human being.”
Dog whistle: Giuliani repeated the conspiracy theory that State Department officials exposing the Ukraine scandal — including former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch — were “controlled” by Soros.
ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblattcalled on Giuliani to immediately apologize for the “antisemitic” statement. “Let’s be crystal clear: Mr. Giuliani is not the arbiter of who is Jewish and who is not, or what is anti-Semitic and what is not,” Greenblatt said.
Doubling down: In a text message to NBC News Giuliani responded to the criticism: “I’m more Jewish than half my friends.”
Flashback: In 1997, Giuliani, running for re-election as mayor of New York City, apologized for criticizing his Democratic rival Ruth Messinger, who is Jewish, because she missed a Columbus Day Mass. h/t Clyde Haberman
🎄 Holiday Welcome: Tali Farhadian Weinstein writes in The New York Times about her arrival in the United States on Christmas Eve at age 4 as a refugee from Iran, where “as Jews, my parents and grandparents became afraid to go to work and even to leave the house.” At JFK Airport on December 24, 1979, she wrote, “a small miracle” occurred. [NYTimes]
🎧 Worthy Listen: Sarah Hurwitz, former speechwriter to former President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton joined “The Axe Files with David Axelrod” to discuss her book Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life– in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There). Hurwitz talked about her family’s immigrant past and her experiences in political speechwriting. [AxeFiles]
🗳️ Likud Primary Watch:The New York Timesdescribes Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar’s primary challenge of Netanyahu this week as a longshot bid with the potential to widen the cracks of the united front the Likud presented over the past year. [NYTimes]
AROUND THE WEB
💵 Raking in Cash: Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has sold more than 90% of his shares, worth more than $2.5 billion, in the ride-hailing company in recent weeks.
🏦 Fund Freeze: Talks have stalled between SoftBank Group and Japan’s three biggest banks on financing the $3 billion rescue package for WeWork.
🕯️ Leaving a Legacy: A street in Poway, California has been renamed for Lori Lynn Gilbert-Kaye, who was killed earlier this year in a shooting at the city’s Chabad House.
👮 Boston Brouhaha: Protesters from Jewish Voice for Peace staged a demonstration last night in Boston against the participation of the city’s police department in training trips to Israel.
👨⚖️ Talk of the Region: The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva has decided to open an investigation into a Palestinian allegation that Israel is promoting apartheid policies in the West Bank.
☎️ Thanking a Friend:Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a campaign event on Monday night to get on the phone with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. On the call, Netanyahu thanked the top U.S. diplomat for speaking out against the ICC prosecutor’s decision to probe Israel.
🇮🇷 Iran Watch: Iran yesterday unveiled new developments at its Arak nuclear reactor in the face of U.S. pressure.
📝 Sticking up for Erdogan: In a lengthy memo sent to Capitol Hill, the State Department expressed its opposition to a bipartisan Senate bill that would sanction Turkey for buying the Russian S-400 missile defense system.
👨💼 Mayor in Chief: A group of 218 foreign policy and national security professionals — including former deputy CIA director David Cohen, former Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon and former National Security Council spokesman Ned Price — have endorsed South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg for president.
🛬 Data Crunch: Figures disclosed by Israel’s Interior Ministry on Monday show that 70% of American immigrants to Israel are not Jewish according to Jewish law. The ministry later said there may have been imprecisions in the figures and pledged to review them.
🏤 Falling Behind:According to a Times of Israel report, Israel’s postal service is failing to handle the pace of package deliveries as Israelis take advantage of Amazon’s new free shipping policy.
✍️ Loose Fuse: The suspect in the Yeshiva University arson, Peter Weyand, claimed in online posts on Thursday that he’s the grandson of Edward Teller, a Hungarian-born nuclear physicist who helped the U.S. develop the atomic bomb during World War II.
🎓 Campus Beat: The Lawfare Project has filed a federal complaint against Columbia University, alleging a “culture of discrimination” against Jewish students.
🏀 Sports Blink: Michael Sweetney, a former NBA player for the Knicks, speaks with The New York Post about his unlikely current role: assistant coach at Yeshiva University and head coach of the girls varsity team at Ramaz.
PIC OF THE DAY
Mitch Julis, an investor and supporter of Jewish and Israeli causes who also serves on the board of the Asia Society, at the new Aman hotel in Kyoto, Japan which, under owner Vladislav Doronin, features a large mezuzah at its entrance.
|Member of the UK Parliament since 2005, former leader of the Labour Party as well as leader of the opposition (2010-2015), Edward Samuel Miliband turns 50…
Professor of education and liturgy at Gratz College for 42 years until retiring in 2017, Saul Philip Wachs turns 88… Pulitzer Prize-winning national security reporter for The Washington Post and now a columnist at The Cipher Brief, Walter Haskell Pincus turns 87… Owner of The Wonderful Company which operates POM, Fiji Water, Teleflora, Wonderful Pistachios and other businesses, Stewart Resnick turns 83… Emeritus professor of English at the University of Vermont and former chief of staff to Senator Bernie Sanders, he is the co-author of Sanders’ political memoir, Stanley “Huck” Gutman turns 76… Justice of the Supreme Court of Florida (1997-2019) including two years as Chief Justice (2004-2006), Barbara Pariente turns 71…Co-founder and a rabbi of Ohr HaTorah in Venice, California, he is also the co-founder of The HUB on Venice, Rabbi Mordecai Finley turns 65…
Former director of the National Economic Council under both Presidents Clinton and Obama, Gene Sperling turns 61… Founder and chief investment officer at BlueStar Indexes (tied to Israeli public companies), Steven Schoenfeld turns 57… Founder of Ochstein Strategies, Jodi L. Ochstein turns 56… Professor of Internet law and computer science at Harvard’s Law School, Harvard’s Kennedy School and Harvard’s School of Engineering, Jonathan Zittrain turns 50… Staff writer at The New Yorker where he covers politics and foreign affairs, Evan Osnos turns 43… Senior director of communications for the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Roben Smolar… Pianist, singer and composer, at nine years old he became the youngest artist to have his own hour-long National PBS Concert Special, Ethan Jordan Bortnick turns 19…
Birthweek (was Monday): Executive director of the Alexander Hamilton Society, Dr. Gabriel Scheinmann… Founder and CEO of GovPredict, Emil Pitkin…